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Cannon quietly conducts school for Republican candidates in House chambers

Rep. Dean Cannon, the Winter Park Republican who has been designated the next House speaker, organized a private little training session in Tallahassee last week for about 30 House Republican candidates who survived the primary. The event, hosted jointly by Cannon and the Republican Party of Florida, gave candidates a primer on campaign strategy -- including dealing with the media -- at RPOF headquarters, and then escorted them to the Capitol, where they heard a speech in the House chambers by Cannon.

His message: We've got a $6 billion budget hole so watch what you promise.

"I wanted to point out that campaigning as a fiscal conservative is easy and governing as a fiscal conservative is much harder than people appreciate,'' he recalled Monday. "A lot of Republicans have said this should be easy -- we just cut waste, fraud and abuse. Yes, we should, but that alone isn't enough to deal with the revenue and budgetary obligations of the state.''

The group also met Cannon's leadership team -- Reps. Will Weatherford, Chris Dorworth, Denise Grimsley, Carlos Lopez Cantera and Gary Aubuchon -- and attended a "Policy Fair" on the 22nd floor where they could ask questions of the staff directors of the House's policy committees. The use of non-partisan policy directors for a partisan event took the House Democratic office by surprise. So, when asked about it, they weren't kind.

"Given the shameful record of failure that Republican legislative leaders have to defend, it’s difficult to imagine what use would come from attending their political soiree,'' said Mark Hollis, the Democrat's spokesman.

All of this would have remained out of the limelight had Tallahassee Democrat reporter Bill Cotterell not stumbled upon the meeting while looking for a candidate and wrote about it. There was no public notice for the distinctly partisan event.

"We didn't intend it as an omission,'' Cannon said. RPOF spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta said "it was more of a political was not an event we typically open." The RPOF paid for lunch and dinner, she said, and the candidates paid for their own travel.

The Democrat's candidate for chief financial officer, Loranne Ausley, saw  Cannon's remarks as a signal that Cannon was criticizing her Republican opponent, Senate President Jeff Atwater, whose campaign website says: "I will fight waste, fraud and abuse.''

“Even Dean Cannon can see through Jeff Atwater’s empty campaign slogan. Floridians know that the real waste, fraud, and abuse is born in the Florida Legislature,'' said Ausley spokesman Kevin Cate in a statement.

Not really, replied Cannon. "None of my remarks were directed at any individual candidate, but that has been the type of  things we've heard candidates say in the past.''